Students explore Ruby-Horsethief Canyon during a wilderness course. Photo by student Kayla Marie Watson.
Whoever thought of putting the Fort Lewis College campus in such a beautiful and diverse landscape loaded with opportunities for outdoor adventure was brilliant.
And so were the folks who thought of using that landscape as an academic curriculum.
The truth is, of course, that Fort Lewis is just lucky to be where it is, where the rugged Southern Rocky Mountains meet the Southwest's canyons and deserts. But the Adventure Education program is very deliberate in its making the most of that fortuitous location.
In only its fifth year, the Adventure Education program has grown to 95 majors and nearly a dozen minors. Graduates of the program are already working in the outdoor education industry, with organizations such as Harvard College's outdoor program, Keystone Science School, and Kling Mountain Guides. And the word has gotten out: Three quarters of present Adventure Education students say they came to Fort Lewis specifically for the program.
One of the reasons for both the program's allure and its success is the emphasis the program places on extending the definition of "classroom" to include the mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts of southwestern Colorado and the Four Corners region.
"Experiential learning is both the key and the point," says Director of Adventure Education Bob Stremba. "Students are learning both what to teach and how to teach it."
In the Adventure Education program, students learn how to lead, teach, and facilitate in a variety of settings that use outdoor and adventure environments, focusing on human-powered outdoor pursuits, including backpacking, ropes-challenge courses, rock climbing, mountaineering, and river running. The program's students are in the field about 40 percent of the time, some even spending seven-week blocks that include 21 days in the mountains, rivers and canyons of Colorado and Utah, learning about wilderness expedition planning, adventure leadership, and methods of teaching adventure education.
All that "classroom" time outside is about more than just "recreation," though, Stremba stresses. "We're very intentional with promoting the 'education,' not just the 'adventure,'" he says. "We're preparing people to be good educators, not guides. Guides take you up the mountain and back safely; educators teach others how to do it themselves. They are trainers of other leaders, and community builders within that group."
Students in the Adventure Education program engage in rigorous academic study, whether in the field or in a classroom, says Stremba. The program also provides professional opportunities that include a semester-long accreditation review at the Wasatch Academy in Utah, conference presentations, and development of their own philosophy-of-education papers.
But, still, it's the actual out-of-doors that makes the academic and professional study make sense, says Junior Brittany Meyer, from Carbondale, Colo.
"As part of the Adventure Education program, you spend a lot time in the back country with teachers and students, and sometimes we had all we needed for ten days in our backpacks. You spend time hiking, setting up camp, doing survival stuff -- but then there are also about three lessons per day," Meyer says. "That is really awesome, and I learn so much more than I would just in the classroom."
Learn more about Adventure Education here.